Stone Leaf Teahouse’s
Tea of the Month Club
Stone Leaf Teahouse is committed to importing only the freshest and best tasting, high quality, sustainably sourced loose leaf tea. Members of our Tea of the Month Club get some of the best and freshest teas delivered to their door steps every month. Accompanying these packages is an e-newsletter with detailed information and instructions to help members enjoy their first set of teas. Here is a sample of the first Tea of the Month e-newsletter. We love sharing our passion for great tea with our customers and we thank you for joining us on this journey.
After one of the more unusual winters in recent memory, spring is undeniably right around the corner. So, what teas are right for this time of year? With tea, like many other products, freshness matters (most of the time! – we’ll get into aged teas some other time). 2012 early spring harvest green and black teas are not yet on the market, so for now we have to look back to some 2011 winter harvest oolongs.
Oolong (translated as Black Dragon) is its own category of tea. It is between green and black tea. That means it has an oxidation level between 15% and 75%. It includes the widest range of teas from green and floral to dark and smokey.
Winter harvest oolong teas are some of the most prized in all of Taiwan. The short production period (around the last week of October through the first half of November) and high demand within Taiwan make these teas quite valuable and often hard to find in the west. This is especially true of the high mountain teas, grown at over 1,200 meters or almost 4,000 feet. The mountain air is cool and crisp at this time of the year, and the tea bushes push forth their last new growth before their long winter dormancy. This new growth, or flush, is essential when making high quality tea. Only the new buds and first few leaves are harvested. Full of life and packed with complex flavors, these fresh buds and leaves are immediately processed on site. If they wait to long, the leaves will loose much of their magical flavor. The process is a long one starting with a controlled withering. Then the tea leaves are rolled under gentle pressure to release some of the moisture locked within. The next step, essential to making a tightly rolled oolong tea, is an alternating between squeezing in a cloth bag and tumbling in a controlled, low heat basket similar to an over sized clothes drier. Often the processing goes throughout the night, and by the next morning, the tea is finally recognizable as Taiwanese oolong tea!
Generally, that is the process for all Taiwanese oolong teas. So what makes Li Shan and Muja Tie guan Yin different and special? Well, let’s take a closer look.
Li Shan (translated as Li Mountain) is one of the most revered oolong teas on the market today, partly because it is the highest elevation tea growing region in Taiwan – over 2,000 meters or 6,561 feet! The surrounding area is dominated by fruit tree orchards. Pears, apples, guavas, peaches, and tea bushes thrive at this semi-tropical high altitude. Mist and clouds surround the high mountain peaks and travel to and from the tea gardens is often long and arduous.
Tea cultivation at these high altitudes is a fairly recent endeavor. Tea has been grown in Taiwan for hundreds of years, but more recently (over the last 50 years or so) farmers discovered that higher elevations helped give teas a more delicate and complex flavor. They called this style of tea “Gao Shan Cha”, literally High Mountain Tea. Land at this elevation is limited, so high mountain tea cultivation is inherently small scale. Farming plots cascade down steep mountain slopes, production is small, and flavor varies from farm to farm and mountaintop to mountaintop.
Li Shan Oolong is known for its light, delicate, crisp body and complex floral, fruity flavor. Our Winter 2011 Li Shan is no exception. Hints of the surrounding fruit orchards dance around a delicate, green herbal backbone and a floral, coconut aroma. This tea is light, refreshing, and revitalizing. A great tea for a clear, crisp day and a perfect one for welcoming the spring!
Muja Tie Guan Yin
Muja Tie Guan Yin, also a Taiwanese oolong tea, is a great contrast to the Li Shan. First, let’s dissect the name. Muja refers to the area in which this tea was grown and Tie Guan Yin is the plant varietal from which it was made.
Muja is a district in the foothills of Taiwan’s great central mountain range just south of Taipei, Taiwan’s biggest city. Historical records make it hard to pinpoint where tea cultivation began in Taiwan, but one fact we know is that Muja was one of the first places to gain fame for producing high quality oolong tea. Immigrants from mainland China’s Fujian Province brought tea plants with them when they settled in Northern Taiwan. They began selling this new oolong to English traders and Taiwan’s small scale tea industry went global.
The Tie Guan Yin varietal is famous in mainland China for producing some of the best oolong teas. Tie, meaning iron, refers to the color of the finished tea and Guan Yin is the name of the Buddhist Goddess of Compassion. The Taiwanese cultivation and processing of this tea is similar to that laid out generations ago by the original immigrants who brought this special plant with them. The biggest difference between the Taiwanese Tie Guan Yin and the Chinese Tie Guan Yin is the final roasting step. Although Chinese Tie Guan Yin may be roasted some of the time, the Taiwanese version is almost always quite heavily roasted. After drying, the leaves are slowly roasted in a bamboo basket for several weeks or even months. You can see this immediately just by looking at the leaves. The dark brown, tightly rolled leaves give off a mild aroma of burnt sweetness similar to molasses or caramel.
This Winter 2011 Tie Guan Yin gives a much darker infusion than the Li Shan. The heavy roasting gives a rich, long lasting flavor. It has a mildly sweet caramel flavor with an ever so slight smoked wood finish imparted by the bamboo roasting basket. The natural floweriness of the Tie Guan Yin varietal has mellowed with roasting, but a faint rose aroma can still be found under the many layers of flavor. Smooth and robust, this tea harkens back to a time long ago. You can taste the history and tradition of generations of artisan tea makers. A great tea to sip while savoring the last days of winter.
For this first installment of the Tea of the Month Club, we have made it easy – both teas can be brewed in the same way.
– Place 1 teaspoon of tea per 8 oz cup in your tea pot or brewing vessel
– Pour boiling water over the leaves
– Wait 1-2 minutes (longer for stronger brews)
– Separate the tea from the leaves (i.e. strain the tea to remove the leaves)
– Save the leaves for additional steepings (these teas can be brewed 4 or more times in one sitting!)
-For more general loose leaf tea brewing instructions, click here.
If you want to go deeper:
– You will notice that both the Li Shan and the Muja Tie Guan Yin look like little pellets. These are actually whole leaves that have been rolled into tight balls. They will open up and expand to more than 5 times their size after brewing! This means that we don’t want them to be crammed in a small tea ball or filter. Ideally, we want to give the leaves plenty of room to expand. The best way to do this is to put the tea loose into a tea pot or cup and then, after brewing, strain the liquid into a pitcher, different tea pot, or the vessels you will be drinking from. This allows the leaves to expand unimpeded and saves the leaves for additional steepings.
-Try washing the leaves before the first brew. Pour some boiling water over the leaves, wait a few seconds, and then strain and discard the liquid. This opens up the tea leaves and allows for a fuller first infusion.
-Try brewing Gong Fu style! Use more tea and a smaller brewing vessel. Wash the leaves (see above) and steep for short amounts of time (20-30 seconds each infusion). This method makes for stronger, more flavorful infusions. It also allows for more abundant infusions (you can steep the same leaves 10+ times using this method). This does take some practice to get right, so be patient.
-To watch a video demonstration of brewing oolong tea Gong Fu style in a traditional Gai Wan, click here.
To read more about brewing in a gaiwan, click here.
Good luck and happy steeping!